Thoughts on Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Within the last year or so, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) seems to have been mentioned in various places, including the ongoing saga with Tony Jones (mentioned here).  I’ve also seen it referenced quite a lot in relation to perpetrators of abuse.  I tweeted the wonderful psychologist, Dr Kate Middleton to ask her thoughts on NPD.  She kindly emailed me some thoughts, which I then asked if I could turn into a blog.  So here is it…!

Personality disorders are quite controversial, both in their diagnosis and treatment. How and why is easiest tackled by thinking about their theoretical basis. Your personality is about how you respond to the world – the patterns of responses you have (traits) – feelings, behaviours etc. Certain traits are common patterns and thus various theories describe personality along sets of traits – some of which are well known e.g. extraversion/introversion. There are lots of theories of personality with many different traits although some (e.g. introversion/extraversion) come up in lots of theories and are more widely accepted – as well as having relatively strong biological theories supporting them.

Personality ‘disorders’ stem from an acceptance that there is a ‘normal’ – i.e. the more common, central patterns along certain traits. Beyond a point therefore we start to call some personality patterns (patterns of behaviour, feelings or emotions) ‘abnormal;’. Personality disorders in a clinical sense describe patterns which are problematic – generally because they either trigger difficult and painful emotions for the individual, or because they lead to people acting towards others in very unpleasant or upsetting ways. However the concept hangs on the acceptance of ‘normal’ verses ‘abnormal’, and of course where exactly you draw the line. For example, there have been various recent books and articles about the ‘psychopaths’ you might meet in everyday contexts like business etc – just one example where people are looking at personality characteristics in individuals who otherwise function relatively ‘normally’. There is always going to be a range across all these measures and the question is when it becomes ‘abnormal’ or something that we should view as ‘illness’ and therefore treat. And of course whether you can say someone is ‘ill’ when it doesn’t affect them – they are perfectly happy, it is just others who they hurt.

In theory personality (certainly once you reach adulthood) has a degree of ‘stability’ – although some personality disorders can worsen as people age, and some tend to improve slightly. Treatment of personality disorders aims to challenge and develop difficult patterns of behaviour, teach alternative strategies and improve awareness/insight and understanding of what these patterns are with the hope of introducing change. Sometimes drug treatment is also used, often with great effect – especially where the problem is related to emotionality (as we have some drug treatments which can reduce or moderate emotions like anxiety, depression etc). However the treatment of personality disorders is notoriously difficult and it is difficult to define ‘success’. The reality is that people with personality disorders tend to have some degree of long term difficulty, although many learn to manage their condition very well. The degree of insight – how much an individual is aware that they have this ‘problem’ and whether they view it as a problem or not – also varies a lot.

So – on to considering Narcissistic personality disorder specifically. In a nutshell this describes someone who has not moved on from the very ego-centric way of viewing the world that children have – and in fact that this has developed in a a rather unhealthy way. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder generally sees themselves as the centre of everything, and views everything from that perspective. They wish others to view them in the same way and often hold unrealistic beliefs or expectations about themselves which can even be described as illusions of grandeur. They can be very controlling and particularly emotionally manipulative as they try to make sure that everyone else maintains this illusion (for it is usually an illusion) that they are all wonderful and all powerful. Their self-belief is immense (which perhaps explains why people with elements of this personality type do extremely well in careers which require a lot of self confidence).

Thinking specifically about whether there is a link between narcissistic personality disorder and abusive behaviour, this varies a lot. In fact narcissistic personality disorder isn’t always associated with abusive behaviour – but it can be present, generally because people with narcissistic personality disorder can be so controlling and require those around them to look up to them them. This can lead them to resent anyone having other interests and sometimes be very jealous etc. One feature often linked with abusive patterns is a lack of empathy – when the individual is so persistent in only viewing things from their perspective that their awareness of the feelings of others becomes almost zero. This feature varies amongst sufferers.

A key question where personality disorders are concerned is how much we can or should ‘excuse’ bad behaviour or abusive treatment of others because of a personality disorder? It’s very hard to perceive how much insight an individual has and whether therefore these actions are a choice or something they are not able to control. A key distinction would also fall around just how marked key traits were in an individual – how far up the scale into ‘disorder’ they might be. Remember that you can see traits related to the same things we call ‘disorder’ in individuals functioning perfectly ‘normally’ in society.

Another interesting thing to consider where narcissistic personality disorder is concerned is how much it might benefit someone to show some features of this disorder at a lower level. Specifically, if you consider personality type you might need in order to be naturally drawn to be a very charismatic leader – the utter self belief and self promotion that narcissists demonstrate would certainly aid them in gaining ‘a following’. Leadership can be learned and taught – but there are clear examples of people who have naturally and instinctively been ‘drawn’ to leadership – with mixed results. Might some of those be people who would score highly on traits associated with narcissism?

In fact, on this topic it becomes really interesting to ponder how often God selected for leadership people who really didn’t want to be leaders and in that sense weren’t ‘natural’ leaders at all. Time and again God’s selected leaders disagreed and even argued with Him about their suitability for that kind of role. Might it be that some of these people were in fact such good leaders precisely because of the absence of some of these characteristics? It is my belief that when looking for leadership potential we should be careful not to only consider those who are the ‘obvious’ choices – many a successful and charismatic leader can grow out of a less clear candidate.

This subject is also interesting from a cultural perspective, when you consider how much we are encouraged to build and feed our ego and self-esteem from the modern ‘instant fix’ of social media. We’re offered such tangible and immediate ‘evidence’ of our popularity (how many likes do we get to a comment etc) – and we know that the more tangible and explicit the reward the more likely we are to pursue it. And yet God calls us to the opposite, says that if we want to be something, we should be nothing and be willing to serve. Something to pray for for our leaders who have to fight this constant tension between platform and humility.

In fact, one feature of our current culture has led some experts to question whether we might be at risk of developing a generation of people more at risk of narcissistic personality problems. As the explosion in ‘selfies’ encourages us to consider every event we experience with us at the centre, might we be learning to become more egocentric instead of less? Here’s just one example of a discussion of this question.

Ultimately in ministry (and in life in general) we must remember that there are no ‘perfect’ personalities. I am always heard saying that no personality is perfect – they all have good sides and flip sides. The key is knowing yourself well enough to know what your weak points are likely to be – the achilles heel of your own personality. It’s about understanding the push and pull of your personality – these narcissistic people will be really good at putting themselves forward, but their risk is that they will be too ego-centric, not good enough at thinking about things from other people’s perspectives etc..

So can or should we ‘excuse’ behaviour because people have a personality disorder? This is a very difficult question, but my instinct would always be to say no. Abusive behaviour is abusive behaviour and we always need to pull people up on that. However we must consider carefully the degree of insight that an individual has, and there could be situations (particularly when that person is themselves the victim of abuse etc) where some would argue that they are not – legally or ethically – responsible for their actions. This is why the aspect of treatment of personality disorders which involves improving insight – and hopefully helping people consider and take onboard the impact their behaviour has on others – is so important.

In fact for us all an essential part of growth and emotional maturity involves improved understanding and insight of both aspects – positive and negative – of our personalities, particularly the impact they might have on us or on others. This is a vital step on the journey as we work to improve ourselves, and become more like Jesus, and I applaud recent calls for leaders to work as much on their emotional maturity as they do on their spiritual life (for example, Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality). But this can only be done from a foundation of the absolute and unconditional love that we get from God. Only by realising that we are acceptable as ourselves, with all our human weaknesses and frailties, can we take the risk of admitting and accepting that aspects of who we are may not be all that great – and allow ourselves to become vulnerable as we work to change.

To read more, check out:

The Royal College of Psychiatry notes on personality disorders.

This article looking specifically at narcissistic personality disorders.

You can tweet Kate @communik8ion and find out more about her NEW BOOK “Refuel” HERE.

Advertisements

Keep Going or Stop?

Rob Bell has announced an event.  It’s called “Keep Going” and is…

“for all of you who are growing and learning and changing and evolving and you’re discovering that not everyone around you is seeing what you’re seeing. Friends, family, spouses, coworkers, employers-what do you do when you’re more alive than ever, and yet all this new life is also bringing with it all kinds of disruption and grief and criticism and even loneliness? For some of you who are leaders, your growth has direct implications for your employment. For others, the new life you’re experiencing is deeply unsettling for some of your most significant relationships.”

The speakers are all white and include Vicky Beeching, Carlton Cuse, Kristin Bell and Pete Rollins.  The same Pete Rollins who only last week declared that calling out narcissism and male violence against women was “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Last week I wrote a post about about Woman Hating.  And I’m back writing about it again.  I know, I know.  I keep going on about it. I’m not going to apologise, because while there’s woman hating, it needs to be brought into the light.

A few weeks ago Steve Chalke declared that serial sex offending is a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Recently Pete Rollins stated that narcissism is a form of self-hatred.  It’s not.  That is one of many myths about narcissism.  He said that publicly calling a narcissist to account is “shaming” and that narcissists are basically pariahs. The fact that narcissists are generally extremely well liked and are given platforms and prestige because they fit the “charismatic leader” role seems neither here nor there to him.  His blog is essentially about rebuffing criticism of his ongoing support for Tony Jones.  Julie McMahon, Tony Jones’ ex-wife has shared her story HERE.

There’s also Mark Driscoll’s grand re-emergence at the Thrive Conference in recent weeks claiming he was the victim of injustice, regardless of the evidence he was an abusive and dangerous leader who hurt thousands.  And most people sat at the conference and applauded him at the end of his talk.

The tale of the two Mars Hills is an interesting one, with Mark Driscoll founding a church called Mars Hill which preached reformed (extremely conservative) theology at one end of the spectrum.  And Rob Bell who led a church called Mars Hill at the other end.

In recent years Rob Bell has become part of the emergent church.  He has partnered with the aforementioned Pete Rollins for this event.  Rollins practices a form of Christian atheism suggesting we all need to deconstruct religion to the point where we realise there isn’t a God anyway.  He presents this as a new and radical way to be Christian, a way which involves no god, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  But hey!  He’s called it “pyrotheology” so that’s okay.

The two white, privileged men; Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll.  They have grown followings and created Personal Brands.  They seem to have nothing in common, at least theologically.

Yet here I am writing about the whitewashing of men’s violence and abuse, in favour of the cause, from both ends of the theological spectrum.

Perhaps Rob Bell wasn’t aware of Pete Rollins’ recent abuse apologism when he invited him to speak.  Maybe now I’ve tweeted him and written this blog, he might choose to un-invite him?  Who knows…?

Vicky Beeching is also speaking at the event.  A couple of years ago Vicky created a project dedicated to faith and feminism.  I declined to be involved in the project at the time.  It will be interesting to see how she will respond to speaking at an event with Pete Rollins, now she has been made aware of his abuse apologism…  With her feminist values, I hope the voices of women like Julie McMahon will be more important than the prestige of speaking alongside Rob Bell.  Who knows…?

I came across this quote from Susan B Anthony today:

“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.” 

For me, it is not reform that drives me to be anything or nothing.  It is obedience to Jesus and His teachings that seeks first the Kingdom of God.  The one where the first will be last and the last will be first.  Where we ask, “what good is it to gain the whole world, but lose my soul?”

Publicly and privately I will speak out about woman hating within the body of Christ.  Over the last few years God’s voice has echoed through the hearts and halls of people and churches; to see women and girls liberated.  Yet with all the anti-trafficking fundraising and acceptance that feminism isn’t a sin, there is still woman hating and we’re still not talking about it.

We hear all this talk of a “voice for the voiceless”, but guess what?  They already have a voice, and they’re shouting, but the people with the power, those with the microphones and the sound systems refuse to broadcast their pleadings.

We don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless, we need to be willing to broadcast the voices no one is listening to.  They’re not voiceless.  They’re IGNORED.  Step away from the Personal Brand and make space for the Ignored People.

I want you to use your imagination for a moment.  Imagine you’re standing in front of a tree.  An enormous tree.  It’s not a beautiful tree, it’s ugly.  Planted in a graveyard.  It reaches upwards, blocking out most of the light.  The branches stretch out, gnarled and twisted.  They’ve curled themselves around gravestones, stone squeezed until it’s buckled.  Pieces of gravestone litter the scorched dry earth.  There’s no leaves.  No colour.  It looks dead.  But it’s not.  It’s moving, writhing, squirming in front of you.  Like a colourless hard wooden snake.  Despair and fear grip your insides as you realise it’s growing, inch by inch.  Defiling everything it touches.  As a branch creeps past your face you see images etched into the bark of this undead, ugly tree.  In the dull, greyness you can see the images are women, trafficked and broken.  Beyond that, on the next branch, women and girls photographed naked, the carvings move as the tree grows, women degraded for men’s pleasure.  Peering further into the tree you see other moving images chiselled into the gnarled bark.  Of girl’s genitals being cut, girl babies killed at birth, men beating women.  At the end of one branch the whittled images move, a Bible screams at a woman to STAY SILENT.  Elsewhere women’s bodies are battered by rape in war.  The terror is overwhelming.  You feel your feet being tugged, the roots below you squirm.  Your feet have sunk into the earth.  It drags you down, pulls you in.  You flail around, trying to maintain your balance, falling to the ground, shock numbing the pain.  Immediately you feel your torso dragged into the earth.  A piece of gravestone catches your eye.  The tiny letters are women’s names.  Row upon row of tiny letters, each name a human being.  Before you can read more than a couple of the names, the earth crawls up your face and into your mouth.  Swallowing you whole as it fills your mouth, throat, stomach.

This is the reality of patriarchy.  It is trafficking and female genital mutilation and pornographies.  Women’s lack of representation on the public platform and the Bible being used to silence women.  Toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes.  Everyday sexism and the gender pay gap.

People are appalled by some of the forms patriarchy takes, while they celebrate other aspects.  They donate to anti-trafficking work, completely ignorant to the woman on the pew next to them whose husband makes her stay awake at night, repeating over and over to him that she is a failure and a bad mother.  They talk of changing and evolving while hosting an abuse apologist.

People don’t see the tree even though it’s swallowing them whole.  There’s many good hearted efforts happening taking a chainsaw to one or two branches of the tree, not seeing the writhing, squirming ugliness that those branches are attached to.

There’s all these efforts for progress.  Progressive politics.  Progressive theology.  Yet as the author Arundhati Roy said, “a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it, and within it is no struggle at all.”

Men are hurting women.  They are controlling, abusing and hurting women.  And as individuals and institutions we are colluding with that.  So perhaps the sentiment and title of Rob Bell’s upcoming event to “keep going” is wrong.  We need to stop and step back.  Men are hurting women and girls.  The Ignored People have been renamed “the voiceless” so we can avoid having to shut up and listen.

Perhaps God could be saying to us:

“Quit your worship charades.

I can’t stand your trivial religious games:

Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—

meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!

You’ve worn me out!

I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,

while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance,

I’ll be looking the other way.

No matter how long or loud or often you pray,

I’ll not be listening.

And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

Go home and wash up.

Clean up your act.

Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings

so I don’t have to look at them any longer.

Say no to wrong.

Learn to do good.

Work for justice.

Help the down-and-out.

Stand up for the homeless.

Go to bat for the defenceless.”

Isaiah 1:13-17 (The Message)

Woman Hating; I pray this prayer for myself and for you also.

Over the last few years it seems that blogging and wider social media has changed enormously.  I’m not an expert in trends, but the monetising of the digital space (adverts on your Twitter timeline, bloggers gaining book deals, personalised trending lists) all have contributed to the space which was once a place of speaking truth to power, into a power source in its own right.  The radical prophets of truth have been subsumed into the power structure, the emerging church becomes, as David Haywood (@nakedpastor) calls it “submergent”.  The question is, does power corrupt, or was the tendency to desire power there all along?

I’m writing this piece partly in response to the way Julie McMahon’s voice has been silenced and ignored by people in power.  Her husband Tony Jones (a man I had never heard of until Julie, his ex-wife, began sharing her experiences of abuse online) is a well known leader within the Christian progressive movement.  She has shared some of the ways in which he hurt her and their children, alongside the ways their church colluded with him over at David Haywood’s blog.

I’m also partly writing this as a reflection a while after Steve Chalke’s continued choice to ignore criticism of the way he referenced a well documented sex offender as a “well-known pacifist”.

I’ve always been vaguely suspicious of the emerging church, where the leaders are almost exclusively white men talking mainly about themselves and their journey deconstructing religion.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve benefitted from reading Rob Bell’s books as much as the next person, but still, these two situations have solidified what was a gradual uneasiness.

Mainly men protecting those accused of being abusers.  People like Pete Rollins, a man presenting himself as liberating people from the chains of religiosity spewing nonsense about narcissism as a form of self-hatred to justify his siding with his friend; enabling Tony Jones continually hurting his wife.  Declaring holding an abuser to account for his abuse as “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Steve Chalke, a leader of inclusivity, whose theological justification for the inclusion of LGBT people within the church included throwing the weight of Biblical scholarship for female leaders under the bus.  (“all those Christians who accept that women have any role, however minor, in teaching or leading, rather than simply serving in a local congregation or any wider expression of church, the Bible – the closed canon of Scripture – does not provide the final answer to the issue.“)  Steve’s inclusivity excludes justice for the 100 women Yoder abused, denying their voice in favour of the nonsense of a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Mark Driscoll stood on a platform this week and declared himself a victim.  And some of the audience believed him.  And his powerful friends who invited him onto the platform applauded him.  And his many victims continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.  His family continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.

This weekend I had an amazing time with a group of wonderful women.  It was my wonderful friends’ hen night and some of our glorious group of women were lesbians.  After a lovely meal, we went to the gay friendly bar “New York New York” which describes itself as a “safe, friendly and welcoming space”.  A man performing as a drag artist spent the 20 minutes we were in the bar being horrendously misogynistic and lesbo-phobic.  He talked about “muscular dykes”, describing lesbians in many and varied disgusting terms, joked about paedophilia and anal rape and spent most of every song shouting about penises.  Myself and at least four other women complained about his behaviour, yet we were told to “f*ck off” or accused of being aggressive.  Woman hating isn’t a church based problem, it’s everywhere.  Even in so called “progressive” and “safe” places.

Isn’t it interesting that women who want equality are so often called “man hating”.  That when women say men rape, they are called man-hating.  But when men kill, rape or emotionally torture women, it’s not called woman hating?  When high profile (mainly) men defend and stand with other powerful men accused of abuse, sexual violence or emotional torture they are not called woman hating?  Isn’t that interesting?

Since the monetising of the digital space, it seems people are less willing to speak out.  Will it always be the case that when people have something to lose they stop being willing to speak out?  Is maintaining book-deals and friends in positions of power worth it?  When powerful people stand on stages or write from blogging platforms do they ever ask themselves, “And what do I benefit if I gain the whole world but lose my own soul?”

I don’t know what the way forward is. Power and platform are not the enemy, like any currency, it is in the hands of humanity that it becomes good or evil.  Money is not the problem, the love of money is.  Power is not the problem, the love of power is.

We need spaces that call out woman hating for what it is.  We need people (and some do exist!) who will speak out, who care more for the voiceless than having their own voice heard.  Because it is that which is not seen as honourable that has the most honour, and that which is last which will become first.  And the truth is, it was in giving up all power that Jesus saved anyone, and as we all know, it is the truth that sets us free.

I don’t have a plan for how we see things change.  I just know that they must.  I say it often, yet I will say it again, until women are safe, no one is safe.  And while  “progressives” hate women there will be no progress.

I was sent this song by someone today, and it spoke so deep into my soul.  I pray this prayer for myself and I pray it for you also.


(The song starts at 1:50 minutes)

Pray by Kendall Payne

I will pray for you now, for you have been my faithful friends

While the road we walk is difficult indeed

I could not ask for more than what you’ve already been

Only that you would say these prayers for me

May your heart break enough that compassion enters in

May your strength all be spent upon the weak

All the castles and crowns you build and place upon your head

May they all fall, come crashing down around your feet

May you find every step to be harder than the last

So your character grows greater every stride

May your company be of human insignificance

May your weakness be your only source of pride

What you do unto others may it all be done to you

May you meet the One who made us

And see Him smile when life is through

May your blessings be many but not what you hoped they’d be

And when you look upon the broken

May mercy show you what you could not see

May you never be sure of any plans you desire

But you’d learn to trust the plan He has for you

May your passions be tried and tested in the holy fire

May you fight with all your life for what is true

I have prayed for you now all my dear and faithful friends

But what I wish is more than I could ever speak

As the way wanders on I’ll long to see you once again

Until then, would you pray these prayers for me?

Oh, that you would pray for me